South Texas church gains Kingdom focus
DEVINE, Texas (BP)--First Baptist Church in Devine is about half an hour south of San Antonio, in rural south Texas, but the church members are passionately contributing to Kingdom work worldwide.
Several months ago, when their pastor search committee interviewed Wayne Dishman, he told them that if the church called him, they would have to understand that the heart of his ministry would be focusing on God's Kingdom.
"'Everything we do is about the Kingdom. It is not about us; it is about the Kingdom,'" Dishman said, recounting what he told the committee and later the congregation. "'We're not here to serve us. We're here to serve the King.' Much to my amazement, they called me anyway."
Dishman began his work at First Baptist Devine in June, and by August the church was implementing "Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God," the cornerstone material written by Ken Hemphill, the Southern Baptist Convention's EKG strategist.
"The Sunday prior to the beginning of that series, we looked at the parable of the wheat and the tares, and in order to be part of advancing the Kingdom you have to make sure you are in the Kingdom," Dishman told Baptist Press. "We had a really unique move of God in our church. We were running about 270 in worship and we had 11 professions of faith that morning.
"That really created the buy-in. All of a sudden they were ready to talk about the Kingdom. 'If this is what it's going to mean in the life of our church and our community, we're in,'" Dishman said. "I preached through the Empowering Kingdom Growth material. We used the discipleship program on Sunday nights. We went straight out of EKG into 'Eternal Impact.'"
Six months later, the church has seen 37 professions of faith, as well as people who have joined the church by letter or statement.
"More than anything else, we're seeing an excitement in the hearts and lives of our people, and they're beginning to catch it," the pastor said. "I can talk about it from the pulpit, and we can have discipleship, but until they really catch it themselves and understand 'I'm a part of something bigger than myself,' it is not going to work. Our folks have bought into that."
If asked, "What is the purpose of your church?" Dishman is confident most of First Baptist's members would answer, "To advance the Kingdom of God on the face of the earth."
The transformation, he said, is even more remarkable given that the church was established when the town of Devine was established, more than 127 years ago.
"This is not a new work. We're dealing with the issues of tradition and 'what we've already done' and 'we'll do what we need to do to keep the machinery running' -- that kind of mentality," Dishman said.
In January, the church got another boost with a visit from Hemphill and his wife, Paula. Dishman said he had exchanged e-mails with Hemphill as First Baptist implemented EKG, seeking guidance.
"He was very, very gracious in answering my questions and was supportive, and finally I just stuck my neck out and said, 'What is the possibility of having you come and talk to my folks yourself?' He said, 'I think that can be accomplished,'" Dishman said.
So the church alerted the local Baptist association as well as the town's ministerial fellowship, and on a Saturday morning more than 70 leaders attended a Kingdom Impact Conference led by Hemphill. The next day during Sunday School, the church's women gathered in the chapel to hear from Paula, and Hemphill preached in both services.
"We are halfway through a year-long strategy," Dishman said. "The goal was to spend an entire year walking through this Kingdom material and developing a Kingdom mindset. I think we've accomplished the development of a Kingdom mindset.
"Now we have to show our folks how that practically applies to their own lives," he said. "It's one thing to talk about it, but it's quite another when you're a nurse on the fifth floor of the hospital asking, 'How do I carry out this Kingdom commission where I am here?'"
The church is shifting into the next phase, which includes one of the larger Sunday School classes studying "Making Change" and another studying "You Are Gifted," the most recent books in the EKG series.
"We're going to transition into making sure that our folks discover their spiritual gifts and how that can be used to advance the Kingdom -- how to be good stewards of our resources," Dishman said.
One sign that they're already learning to use resources for the Kingdom is that First Baptist Devine set a goal of $7,000 last fall for their Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. By January, they had collected $15,000.
"I think part of that is connected with this Kingdom commitment," Dishman said. "It's not just local. It's around the world, and this is part of our Kingdom commission. Our folks have embraced that, and I almost think that's just an affirmation of what we've been emphasizing."
The pastor was quick to credit a group of leaders and other church members who were willing to accept the EKG emphasis.
"I'm very blessed in that they have embraced this and are willing to run with it. I know a lot of pastors don't have that luxury," Dishman said.
Given his experience, Dishman encourages other churches to consider joining the Empowering Kingdom Growth movement.
"I really think one of the things that has been beneficial for us is EKG has allowed us to look beyond ourselves," he said. "It's really easy in a small, small town like ours to get tunnel vision. EKG has helped us view our mission and our ministry through Kingdom eyes, and it has been an exciting thing to see as a pastor."
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information, visit empoweringkingdomgrowth.net.